Thomas Crerar

Thomas Crerar

JUNE 17, 1876 - APRIL 11, 1975

Thomas Crerar was born in Molesworth, Ontario, but moved to Manitoba during his youth. Crerar established himself as a notable farmer in the province. He grew grain and taught at a rural school in the newly developing province. Around the turn of the century, Crerar expanded his portfolio to leadership, as the manager of the Farmers’ Elevator Co-op, president of the Grain Growers Grain Company and the first reeve of Silver Creek, Manitoba.

Crerar would come to national prominence in the 1910s. At the decades start he was appointed to the board of the Home Bank of Canada. During the war years, Crerar became a well-known advocate for policies that benefited farmers. He endorsed the Canadian Council of Agriculture’s 1916 platform suggestion that included low tariffs, railway nationalization and a progressive income tax.

His notability was rewarded in the 1917 election when he, considered a Liberal in affiliation, was offered a position in the Union government cabinet of Robert L. Borden. Crerar easily captured the riding of Marquette in Manitoba. Crerar continued to use his United Grain Growers stationery for letters while in office and was committed to a non-partisan idea of Union government.

Much of his ministerial tenure was focused on continuing the efforts of the government to supply Canadian agricultural products abroad at a reliable rate as well as at an acceptable price for Canadian farmers. A major policy piece invoked was the creation of a single wheat board for Canadian product in 1917. The government closed the Winnipeg Grain Exchange and prices sky-rocketed to $3.15 per bushel. In 1919 the policy was lifted but the decision proved to be an important foreshadower for the eventual dominance of unitary grain marketing in Canada.

Crerar established some policies in the post-war world as well. He brought in microscopic Seed Branch analyses to prevent the contamination of mill feeds and a new regulatory system for beef to keep tuberculous out of Canadian exports. However, the lack of action towards a reduction in tariffs as well as other key demands of western farmer movements, led Crerar to resign from government in protest in 1919.

Crerar wasted no time reentering the political arena by founding the Progressive Party the following year. The Progressive Party’s policy was largely reminiscent of the Liberal party with a distinct focus on expanding free trade. Additionally, the Progressive Party aligned itself with various provincial United Farmer governments, promising to bring agricultural advocacy to the Federal House of Commons. However, Crerar also mandated a lack of uniformity in policy, promoting Progressive candidates to reflect their constituency.

In the 1921 general election, the Progressive Party elected 58 members, including the first female Member of Parliament, Agnes Macphail. This tally was more than the Conservatives 49 and second to the Liberals one-vote majority of 118. The Progressive Party dominated the three Prairie Provinces and also picked up respectable seat counts in Ontario and British Columbia. The Liberals coasted to power by winning 100% of the seats in Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. The distribution of regional votes across the left-wing parties was an interesting foreshadowing of the power that Western-focused protest parties could have. Said power would boost the Reform party into prominence during the 1990s.

Crerar favoured an alliance with the Liberals while some other notable party members wished to reflect their constituents only in a decentralized manner. Neither of these options were conducive to forming the official opposition and so the party refused the role. Crerar failed to either influence the Liberals policy through support or centralize his own party under more conventional lines and he resigned as leader in 1922.

Crerar returned to preside over the Grain Growers Company, now known as the United Grain Growers. By 1924 he had expanded the company to control 367 grain elevators across the Prairie Provinces. He would retain directorship in various enterprises when he returned to politics as a Liberal in 1929.

Crerar was made briefly made Minister of Railways and Canals. The Liberals, and Crerar, were defeated in 1930 but he returned to government in 1935. Crerar served as MP for Churchill and Minister of Mines and Resources. In his role as Minister of Mines and Resources, Crerar usually sat quietly in the house, preferring to craft his policy behind the scenes. Crerar was a valuable member of the wartime cabinet and when he retired in 1945, William Lyon Mackenzie King appointed him to the senate.

In the 1950s Crerar focused his senatorial efforts on promoting responsible spending to both the St. Laurent and Diefenbaker governments. One of his interesting endeavors was a proposal to divide the Yukon and the North-West Territories between the four western provinces. He was also a sponsor and proponent of successful bills, such as the 1953 establishment of the Canadian Disaster Relief Fund. In 1956 Crerar heavily criticized the government’s attempt to invoke closure over the house and prevent meaningful senate assessment of the pipeline bill. The controversy over Liberal motions was a large factor towards the St. Laurent’s governments loss in the 1957 and 1958 elections. In 1966, Crerar retired from the senate and engaged in no further political activity.

In 1973 Crerar was named a Companion of the Order of Canada, one of the highest honours available in the nation. Crerar died two years later after a lifetime of service to Canada and its farmers.

Celebrating 150 Years of Canadian Agriculture